"tired bo bired" | wednesday | february 4, 2009 | 1:19 pm
Not beat down, bedraggled, soul-sucking tired like I was a month ago when I was in a mortal struggle
with pneumonia. But I am still not quite recharged and
recovered. I generally feel okay but I tire out pretty quickly. Even just a few hours at school
is enough to make me want to put on my PJs and crawl into bed. I guess that's to be expected after
being sick for so long.
I am mostly better now, though I think I've been saying "mostly" for a week or so now. Every time I
talk to someone, medical professional or otherwise, the time for full recovery from pneumonia keeps getting
longer and longer. I have given up on trying to guess when I'll be "done" being "mostly" and finally
get to be "all" better. I had a little bit of a worry last week. At the start of last week, I had
a low grade fever, my sinuses were all pressure-y, and my cough worsened. I emailed my physician
and she recommended that I just go in to the health center to get checked up, to get someone to
listen to my lungs. We ended up doing all of my follow-up tests last Tuesday. My x-rays came
back negative for pneumonia and everything else seemed good. I just had a cold and a little bit
of a bronchial thing.
My cold is mostly gone. I got put on a steroid inhaler and my bronchial thing is mostly gone. I feel
pretty good considering. It will be nice when I can just go about my day to day without having to
catch my breath or cough up a lung.
Basically, I'm just trying to rest and take it easy. Of course, whenever I need to do that,
my life is always suddenly busy with teaching stuff, meetings, places to be, due dates, group
demands, and so on.
The biggest deadline was my prospectus defense. Basically, after I turned in the revision to my
prospectus, the twelve-odd-some paged document that ostensibly articulates my dissertation project
and outlines proposed chapters, I needed to meet with my committee to talk about it and have them
sign off on it. Well, my "defense" (more like a meeting thankfully) was last Thursday. Alas, I
couldn't manage to get the meeting to fall on a holiday, but it was sandwiched between
Chinese New Year and
The meeting went fine. It began with two of my professors, Kate and Eva. They started by saying
that they are passing the prospectus and that they felt I was ready to move into the dissertation.
So, at least, I didn't have to worry about passing or not passing. And then they proceeded to ask
me really difficult and scary questions. I expected as much out of my committee, who have reputations
for challenge and rigor. I did my best to answer their questions, which focused mainly on
elaborating parts of my project, on explaining why I chose the texts that I chose to focus on,
on how I conceived of certain parts of my argument. That's all. The difficulty of course is
that I haven't written the dissertation yet, so much of what I don't know I don't know because
I haven't crossed those bridges yet. My chair Tom arrived halfway through the meeting and added
his questions, suggestions, and wisdom. Part of the meeting was about my project and what I
wanted to do. Part of the meeting was thinking about how to go about actually writing a 200-some
page document. And part of the meeting was about planning for graduation, for going on the market,
for professionalizing, and strategizing about how to make sure my project was marketable.
It was tough. On some levels it was harder than my oral exams. But I got through it. Or I should
say that I coughed my way through it. And now I am officially dissertating.
read footnotes |
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"short month" | friday | february 27, 2009 | 9:43 am
TILL TIRED. I think I say that a lot. And I think it's my
general state and the general state of most graduate students. It's not that I don't get enough sleep
(though sometimes that's the case), but rather it's just that I constantly feel worn down. In other
words, it's called stress. It is a diffuse, lingering, shifting kind of stress, which weighs me down
like a heavy blanket. I do have a lot to do and I do have various responsibilities that keep me
busy, but it's not like I have seminar papers due in two weeks or bill collectors breathing down my
neck or impending, unresolved relationship drama to confront. For the most part, my life is good.
My deadlines are farther off, fuzzy on the horizion. My bills are getting paid though I am worried
about funding for next year. (In fact, I just got a credit report done and I am in great, great shape.)
And my relationship with Greg has settled, is comfortable, and is a nice, warm, happy spot in my life,
though you never really know what will happen or where things will go in a week, in a month, in six
months, in a year.
The biggest stressor is school.
On a micro level, teaching has been particularly challenging this
quarter. I have some really good students who are bright, engaged, good writers, great participators
in class discussion, and who seem like they like me and the class. However, I have a majority of
students who I think feel a bit baited-and-switched because
my class on video games wasn't
what they wanted or turned out to be what they expected (even though I was very clear about the
goals and focus of the course from day one). They have faced rigor and difficulty and the demand
for critical thinking with less grace and effort and enthusiasm than I had hoped. And I think
rather than turning to me for help, than taking up the challenge, than getting something out of
the class, they are simply shutting down. My first set of major papers four weeks ago were
under par (but it makes sense since it's the first time they have written for me). Alas, because
they are required to do two out of three papers during the quarter, most chose not to do the first
turn-in. The second set of papers were near abysmal. In fact, I got them this past Monday, started
grading them, found them to be distressingly poor, and graded the whole stack (which took me
nearly twelve hours) so I could return them to the class the very next day. I mean I got a
paper that was only two pages (the requirement was 4-6), not researched (they had to have five
academic sources), and ended in the middle of a paragraph. Really?! That's what you're going to
turn in? I wanted to make sure I talked to them about it before it was too late. It has been a
long time since I have had to use the voice of authority, to thrash a class with a scolding; I
cowed them to the point that they couldn't look me in the eyes till I was finished. However, the
roll of the dice did not pay off and I think many have chosen the path of least resistance and
simply given up. The students who are fine are fine. The students who ask for help will be fine.
But the students who don't do anything, give in to either apathy or inertia or fear, are going to
be in serious trouble. Even though I know I cannot help everyone nor should I expect every
student to respond and engage, it depresses me and pisses me off and stresses me out.
On a macro level, I am worried about the next year or two. I am unsure about the next year or two.
And I am ambivalent about the next year or two. The national financial crises (we have to make sure
we understand that this is plural not some singular problem or catastrophe that can be solved in
one fell swoop or stimulus plan) has of course produced budget crises at the
University of Washington,
which has produced budget crises in my home department. (Of course, the humanities get hit
the hardest or have to suffer the most in these final calculations.) What does this mean?
What does this mean for me? There's a whole list of things. Here are some salient things drawn from
the last departmental meeting with grad students and the departmental chair (I took minutes at
--we have little info, but any info will be made available as soon as possible; a lot is not yet
known or decided; "uncertainty" is the word of the minute, hour, and day; much of this again depends
on the State budget
(Washington is deciding its next biennium state budget this year)
--preliminary permanent TA allocation for next year; 80% of total from last year; even at 80%, the
money reaches far enough to fun all TAs through the 5th year (that we have)
--beyond the 5th year, things are still uncertain; much of this depends on the State budget (as
decided by Olympia), which might be late this year
--course assignments will be trickier this year; this will sort out slowly
--the College is thinking about going to create a temporary TA budget; still unknown but some of
that money would likely go to English
--Graduate Studies Committee / Faculty endorsed no more than 2 TA positions available for recruitment,
for brand new people (down from the usual 10-12 offers); the money that we do have will go to
students already in the program
--new TAs / 6th Year funding is still uncertain; "magnified" this year; question about insurance
(if we're not appointed, can we get insurance coverage); uncertain whether or not 6th year offers
will be quarter-to-quarter or year-long appointments; historically 6th year funding is quarter to quarter
--the director of the Expository Writing Program says normally we would have 30-34 new TAs
(recruits, fellowship grads, grads who have not yet TAed), but this year it looks like it will be about
15; which means that 2nd years will probably continue to teach ENGL 131 (the core comp class)
rather than moving on to other kinds of classes
--the director of gradute studies says that the department is really committed to the people here;
she discusses work critera (barring a windfall) approved by the faculty: in order to be considered
for 6th year funding, you must have defended the dissertation prospectus AND your director of your
dissertation must have approved 1 chapter of the dissertation (these decisions won't be made until
the very end of the spring quarter, so write!); heads up on the satisfactory progress benchmarks,
you need to meet those benchmarks; 4th years really need to complete the exams (waivers are no longer
going to mean much anymore); 2nd years need to complete the MA; this is a way to support as many
people as possible with a clear criterion
--dissertation fellowships are not directly affected, pay out from the endowment; the endowment has
gone down but it is cushioned; pay out for next year will not be cut as much as the departmental money;
PhCs should pay attention to the things sent out from the graduate office via the PhC listserv for
--the chair projects that with the upcoming year, there will be a lot of students coming in and
someone will need to teach them; granted money will probably come back into the system but it is
The biggest problems are: first, not knowing much until the State decides its budget, which puts people like
grad students in a bind because they have to plan for the summer or next year but have to wait to
see if they get funding or not; and second, having to suddenly meet benchmarks in some cut-and-dry
way, which means some grad students caught in limbo are going to suffer.
My guaranteed funding is up this school year. Next year will be my "sixth year" though it is
my fifth year being here (I'm post Master's), so I am in the category of "not knowing." I hate
it, actually. It was the intention of the department to extend guaranteed funding to sixth years.
But the financial meltdown has obliterated that dream. I think I will be fine, but I
hate not knowing I will be fine, particularly in matters of money. I really didn't want to
take out another year of loans. I really just want to finish my degree, teach another year,
and get out on the market. I am going to apply for upcoming fellowships and such. I'd rather
be teaching, though. But all funding opportunities are contingent on your place in the
process, your satisfactory progress towards the degree. In other words, how much have you
done and how much have you written?
I got through my dissertation prospectus defense and am now supposedly writing. I have started
reading and researching (though barely), but I have not actually put pen to paper, hands to
keyboard. I don't even have a working file saved on my computer called "ed's dissertation.doc" yet.
The general dissertation funk is strong in me. It's not unusual, quite normal actually. Most
people simply get stuck, freaked out, depressed, paralyzed, or overwhelmed. I think I'm a
little taste of each at the smorgasbord of grad student anxiety and insecurity. In part, I
think I'm looking forward and seeing a pretty bleak future. I really wanted to finish
this calendar year and try to go on the market this fall. But my committee is against it
(unless I actually finish my dissertation). To think that I would be in grad school
another two years is depressing to me. And then I have the woefully glutted and woefully
sere job market to contend with and figure out. Too many PhDs, not enough positions.
Why write my dissertation if it's going to get me no where? Why start now if I know I
have two years to go? Why bother if I can't get funding to do my work much less to live and eat
and sleep under a roof?
That's where I am at. That's where I'll be for a while, I think. That's what I have to work through.
Like I said, things are generally fine in the now. But down the road looks dodgy.
read footnotes |
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